Change to Education Law Eases Student Testing Participation
For the fourth time in as many months, the Bush administration is easing the restrictions of its education law, this time in the area of testing. The latest move is to reduce the number of students a school may test without running afoul of the law.The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires schools to test at least 95 percent of students in math and reading. Schools also must have 95 percent participation from all major subgroups of students, such as minority or disabled youngsters. The point is to make sure that schools are accountable for every student’s progress, and to ensure that no schools have incentive to exclude lower-performing students on test days. Under the new policy, schools will get some leeway. As long as they average a 95 percent participation rate among students over two or three years, schools will meet the law. A school that tested 94 percent of students one year, for example, could make the mark if it tested 96 percent of students the year before. The same is true for subgroups of students. Schools also won’t have to count students who are enrolled but miss testing, including makeup exams, because of a medical emergency. The changes are meant to fix a problem that has surfaced anecdotally: schools that fail to meet the federal standard just because a few students miss a test. There is no documentation of how often that has happened, but it can lead to consequences. Schools that get federal poverty aid but don’t make progress goals at least two straight years face mounting sanctions, from having to offer transfers to risking state takeover. “We are listening to parents and educators and making adjustments,” Education Secretary Roderick Paige said in announcing the new policy late last month to the National School Boards Association conference in Orlando, Fla. “But we are not willing to sidestep or ignore the heart of No Child Left Behind — making sure that all children count.”The changes will apply to the current school testing season. Federal officials set out to offer flexibility without backing down from the law’s call for at least 95 percent of all students to be tested. Since December, Paige has also eased rules affecting highly qualified teachers, disabled children and limited-English learners. “It’s the first time we’ve had any recognition of the issues we’ve raised over the last two years, in terms of their willingness to address them,” said Michael Bird, federal affairs counsel for the National Conference of State Legislatures. “In that regard, they’re to be commended for listening, although we still have some root problems with the law.” Among them, Bird said, is a view among states that the federal government hasn’t provided enough money to pay for its requirements, from data collection to teacher training. The National Education Association said the law’s testing remains flawed because schools are judged on different groups of students each year, not the progress the same students make over time. The NEA also says schools that have been labeled as “needing improvement” under the law should be re-evaluated under new rule changes, but department officials have shown no interest in letting the changes apply retroactively. — Associated Press
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